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LA County passes 2 motions aimed at protecting renters, preventing homelessness

Pictured is Los Angeles. The LA County Board of Supervisors passed two motions Tuesday to prevent renters from becoming homeless. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Sharla Steinman

July 14, 2023 1:27 p.m.

This post was updated July 16 at 5:33 p.m.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved two homelessness prevention motions Tuesday.

More protections were added to the county’s Rent Stabilization and Tenant Protections Ordinance, while a new motion was passed to establish a Right to Counsel Ordinance, which provides guaranteed legal representation to residents at risk of becoming unhoused.

Rent Stabilization and Tenant Protections Ordinance

In the first passed ordinance, the board unanimously supported updating the county’s already-established ordinance by adding protections to prevent at-risk renters from becoming homeless.

“Together, we must make every effort to take homelessness prevention seriously by tackling the issue of inflow head on,” District 3 Supervisor Lindsey P. Horvath said in a press release.

The ordinance, which first went into effect in April 2020, based the maximum annual rent increase on the Consumer Price Index – the measure of the average change over time in the amount paid by consumers for goods and services – and provided tenants protections from evictions without just cause.

The revised ordinance impacts unincorporated parts of LA County and includes three strengthened protections.

The first requires that any tenant in unincorporated parts of LA County who is offered a voluntary buyout agreement is also offered an amount equal to or greater than the relocation assistance a tenant would be entitled to under a no-fault eviction.

The second states that tenants have an affirmative defense, which is a set of facts other than those alleged by the landlord. Tenants have a defense to an unlawful detainer action – which notifies an individual that a landlord is suing to have them evicted – if a landlord fails to provide a copy of the eviction to the LA County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs as required under Section 8.52.09.

The third requires that a termination notice include the reason for eviction for any at-fault circumstances. The date, place, witnesses and circumstances of the concern must also be included in the notice.

The updates to the ordinance come after increasing evictions countywide, according to Horvath’s press release.

“Rent stabilization measures for unincorporated communities are one additional way Los Angeles County is addressing the homelessness crisis with urgency and demonstrating what’s possible for all our cities – an essential partner in solving homelessness,” Horvath said in the press release.

Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater LA, said tenant protections can often have negative effects, as some landlords go out of business or convert their properties into condominium units that are less regulated.

“They’re selling these properties to large developers that are either building luxury rental units, because that’s the only way to make money here if you want to be in the rental business, or they’re converting their buildings into condominiums,” Yukelson said.

In June, UC San Francisco released a study of individuals experiencing homelessness statewide that found that high housing costs and low incomes left people at risk of becoming unhoused. Of those surveyed and interviewed, 70% believe that a monthly rental subsidy could have prevented their homelessness for an extended period of time.

The decision to update protections in the Rent Stabilization and Tenant Protections Ordinance came from the belief of the necessity for strong renter protections to prevent homelessness, District 1 Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in the press release.

“Strong eviction protections are critical in preventing mass displacements,” Solis said in the press release. “Today’s vote on strengthening our Rent Stabilization and Tenant Protections Ordinance will help us avert more people from falling into homelessness.”

Right to Counsel Ordinance

Also on Tuesday, the board passed a motion to establish a Right to Counsel Ordinance.

The motion, authored by District 2 Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell and Solis, calls for an ordinance to codify legal representation at no cost for qualified tenants facing eviction in unincorporated communities. Representation will be provided through the Stay Housed LA initiative, which is the county’s eviction defense program that provides services, such as short-term rental assistance, and legal aid to help residents at risk of becoming unhoused.

The motion asks that the LA County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, County Counsel and other related county departments establish tenant eligibility requirements before the end of next year and obtain sustainable funding sources.

Yukelson said he believes that providing attorneys for those facing eviction is a major issue because of the costs associated with legal representation.

“Trying to … fund private attorneys to represent tenants who could be facing eviction for a number of reasons, including reasons that are because they’re in violation of a lease agreement they signed, is a major problem,” Yukelson said.

According to the Center for American Progress, which is a progressive policy organization, 10% of tenants facing eviction in the county have legal representation while 90% of landlords do.

Solis said in a press release that providing legal aid to tenants will allow tenants to have a fair chance in court with landlords.

“Having a right to counsel will help level the playing field for tenants in court with landlords,” Solis said in the press release.

Yukelson said he is pushing for a more solid mediation program in LA, which currently goes largely unused by renters and landlords. A mediation program for eviction disputes is a conversation between a landlord and tenant overseen by a trained professional to resolve conflict.

Last year’s Greater LA Homeless Count indicated that the number of those falling into homelessness is continuously rising. The count showed that the number of people experiencing homelessness rose 9% in 2022, compared to the 4.1% increase in 2021.

[Related: Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count resumes in Westwood, seeks volunteers]

Solis said in the press release that the goal of the Right to Counsel Ordinance is to level the playing field between renters and landlords, as well as to protect those at risk of experiencing homelessness.

“This is about justice. This is about equity,” Solis said in the press release. “This is about cementing Los Angeles County’s guiding principle—serving as a safety net for our most vulnerable.”

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Sharla Steinman | City and Crime Editor
Steinman is the 2023-2024 city and crime editor. She was previously a city and crime contributor. She is also a fourth-year political science student.
Steinman is the 2023-2024 city and crime editor. She was previously a city and crime contributor. She is also a fourth-year political science student.
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